An unexpected thunderstorm that rolled through Douglas County this morning brought more than 200 lightning strikes, which sparked numerous fires on parched wildlands.
Douglas Forest Protective Association spokesman Kyle Reed estimated the storm started 54 fires, mostly in the southwestern part of the county.
The fires range in size from a single tree to approximately 2.5 acres.
The storm was caused by an unusual combination of factors, National Weather Service meterologist Shad Keene said.
A thunderstorm that initiated over Lassen County in Northern California earlier in the week released a push of air northward over the Cascade Mountains. The southern air collided with cooler marine air and formed the storm over Douglas and Josephine counties, Keene said.
He said the storm took meteorologists by surprise because it is rare for a storm to travel as far as this one did.
“This can happen within counties, but to cross so many counties, especially with all the terrain, is tough,” he said.
He said the conditions were just right to form a thunderstorm.
The storm entered Douglas County just after 2 this morning and remained over the area until about 6:30 a.m., Reed said.
The storm brought a little rain with it, but not enough to make a difference for fires, he said. Roseburg received between .01 and .05 inches of rain overnight, according to the weather service.
The last measurable rain Roseburg received was .02 inches on June 26.
Keene said the thunderstorm continued north, but weakened near the border of Lane County.
“That initial nudge from the storm over California supplied enough energy for a while, but it fizzled out,” he said.
Reed said the lightning strikes extended north to Sutherlin, but was concentrated in the Cow Creek drainage area southwest of Riddle.
The district ordered more resources this morning, including additional hand crews and more helicopters to fight fires through the air.
Umpqua National Forest spokeswoman Cheryl Caplan said district firefighters are responding to smoke reports throughout the forest from lookouts. There was one confirmed fire on the Tiller Ranger District at 9 this morning that measured less than a one-tenth of an acre.
“We are expecting more fire starts as the day heats up,” she said.
Keene said no more thunderstorms are expected throughout the day, and the storm put an end to the heat wave. He expects cooler temperatures to start Saturday and continue for several days.
Roseburg reached a high of 99 degrees yesterday at 3:47 p.m., 13 degrees above average.
Reed said conditions are two to four weeks ahead of normal for this time of year. He asked the public to be cautious when in the woods.
“With all these fires, we don’t need additional human caused fires right now,” he said. “People need to be extra careful.”
He said the association is swamped while working to contain the fires.
“Things want to burn right now and we’re dealing with it one fire at a time,” he said.
Around the state, the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire is currently burning 48,916 acres on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation approximately five miles northeast of Warm Springs. The blaze remains at 40 percent containment and is expected to be contained Aug. 1. The fire, which started Saturday, is believed to be human caused.
Attached video is a helicopter going to fight a fire in the Cow Creek River area just upstream from Union Creek courtesy of former Riddle resident Sean Klope.
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.